Naperville School District 203 rolling out electric school buses this fall

Close up of top front of school bus, with words school bus
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Four electric school buses will be added to Naperville School District 203’s fleet in the upcoming 2023-2024 school year as an anticipated pilot program gets underway.

The board of education on Monday, March 20, approved District 203’s transportation fund for the upcoming school year, which totals $3.09 million. The spending package includes a $1.36 million contract with Lion Electric for the carbon footprint-reducing buses.

Electric school bus proposal gets overwhelming board support

During a discussion of the electric bus rollout, members of the board of education overwhelmingly supported the proposed pilot program, which will cost more at the outset, but is expected to eventually yield financial savings.

“It’s something we’ve been looking at and talking about now for a couple of years, so it’s exciting to see this,” board member Joseph Kozminski said. “It helps us with the effort to reduce our carbon footprint, as well as positive implications for air quality.”

Board President Kristin Fitzgerald said the pilot program fits hand-in-glove into District 203’s environmentally conscious efforts and is one piece of a larger puzzle.

“I know we, as a district, have been looking globally at decreasing our carbon footprint, and I know this is an effort that is a part of that,” Fitzgerald said.

Kicking the tires and seeing how the pilot works

District 203 Chief Financial Officer Michael Frances and Superintendent Dan Bridges said the pilot program will help create a roadmap for the transition to electric-powered buses. As oftentimes is the case, cost will play an important part of the equation.

Out of the gate, District 203 is contributing an additional $830,000 toward the installation of charging stations and related infrastructure, which will be required to power the four electric buses.

When asked by the board about a timeline for additional electric buses, Bridges said that answer would become more evident in the road ahead.

“There’s going to be a number of different factors that are going to have to be considered,” Bridges said. “Today, it’s too early to say.”

Within the parameters of District 203’s transportation budget, Frances said the electric vehicle integration will depend on broad factors.

“There’s going to be a number of things that we are going to have to evaluate,” Frances said. “We’re also hopeful that the prices will continue to go down, and the gap between a diesel bus and an electric bus will be lower. We need to continue evaluating the funding that’s available.”

In terms of maintenance and the replacement schedule, Frances added, “Hopefully we’ll be able to keep these buses a little bit longer now than we have with diesel.”

Rest of the budget for diesel buses

The balance of District 203’s transportation budget for the 2023-24 school year includes contracts with fleet providers Midwest Transit and Central States for the purchase of traditional diesel-fueled buses.

The contracts with Midwest and Central States are offset by the trade-in of existing diesel-powered buses that have recorded high mileage. Frances said buses typically are retired from District 203’s fleet once they have mileage in the range of 61,000 to 89,000.

Administrators said the pilot EV program will serve as an important gauge in determining the frequency of additional purchases in the future.

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